It has rained on and off — and very heavily when on — here for many days now.  Most of the colorful autumn leaves have fallen.

Here is a verse by Kaen from the old book A Year of Japanese Epigrams, but in my loose translation.  You will notice that it has a dash of “thinking,” so in our system it is a shinku (hokku with a bit of thinking added) rather than a daoku (completely objective hokku):

The pattering of rain
On fallen leaves.

Hara-hara to oto       shite       sabishi ame ochiba
Falling       to  sound making   lonely  rain  fallen-leaves

It of course reminds us of a similar well-known verse by  Gyōdai that qualifies as daoku, being completely objective:  It is one of the simplest and best old hokku:

Ochiba ochikasanarite ame ame wo utsu

Falling-leaves fall-pile up rain rain wo beats

Leaves fall
And pile up;
Rain beats on rain.

R. H. Blyth translated it in a particularly appealing way, because of the consonance (repetition) of the letter “l”:

Leaves falling,
Lie on one another;
The rain beats on the rain.

When we compare Kaen’s verse with that of Gyōdai, we can easily see it is the addition of “loneliness” that makes it a shinku instead of a daoku.  That “loneliness” is the adding of the writer’s personal interpretation of the sound of the rain pattering on the fallen leaves.  Gyōdai, however, simply presents us with the leaves falling and piling up and the rain beating on the rain, and we feel what is openly stated in Kaen’s verse without the need to say it.  It is the old maxim we heard so often in school — “Show, don’t tell.”

There is no single English word that exactly corresponds to sabishi.  It combines elements of being alone and solitary with a kind of profound, wistful, existential sadness.  It does not have so much of the implications of “deprived of human company” that we sense in the English word “loneliness.”



6 thoughts on “RAIN ON FALLEN LEAVES

  1. I love the shinku by Kaen, and get that deep feeling of sabishī. I’m one of the strange people who likes that feeling…not all the time, of course. It makes me feel alive. I don’t think sabishī is a bad thing.

  2. “and we feel what is openly stated in Kaen’s verse without the need to say it” – or perhaps we don’t feel it and feel something else entirely. I prefer the poem that lets me feel without circumscribing my feelings.

  3. I don’t think Kaen is telling us how to feel; he’s simply telling us how he feels…that he feels loneliness when he hears rain hitting leaves. This verse is just an example of loneliness, not a suggestion about how to feel when you read it. We can feel however we wish, when we read his words.
    Gyōdai’s verse is not an example of a feeling. His verse is simply a statement about rain hitting fallen leaves or hitting water on the leaves. You can feel any way you wish with either verse, in my opinion.

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